Some of the most popular music we hear in our Instagram and TikTok feeds comes from Forrest Frank, the independent artist and music producer known for his viral, feel-good songs.

His beat-driven pop combines vibey grooves and infectious hooks in hits like “Up!” and “Good Day.”

Frank was the top-ranked new artist on last year’s Billboard Christian charts, and his advice for fellow Christian musicians is this: Make good music, and the audience will follow.

The 28-year-old has found a massive audience by leveraging his production abilities, social media savvy, and collaborative approach to music-making. But he’s confident his songs climb the charts on Spotify and trend on social platforms because they are good songs, not because he’s figured out how to hack the algorithms.

“If your content’s not doing well, the song’s not good enough,” the 28-year-old said on YTH Nation, a podcast by the youth ministry at Elevation Church.

The Waco, Texas-based musician and Baylor University grad is half of the popular duo Surfaces, and he has teamed up with an array of popular Christian artists including Elevation, Maverick City Music, Lecrae, and Hulvey.

A common theme of Forrest Frank’s social media content is debunking the perception that Christian music is boring or corny, or that young people won’t listen to music with faith-forward lyrics.

His success seems to be proving that there is a large cohort of Gen-Z Christians looking for music that speaks openly and unapologetically about Jesus.

One of his viral reels shows Frank and Hulvey leading a passionate crowd of young adults in worship at a concert with the text Christian rap isn’t worship (sarcastically) overlaid, as the two artists and the audience sing the words of their song “Altar”: Glory to the Father / You deserve the praise / Lead me to your altar / Wash away my shame.

Frank is convinced that a rising cohort of Christian artists have the potential to capture audiences who aren’t even looking for Christian music.

“In the same way that Christians have sacrificed their value systems to absorb worldly art, I think what’s coming is the world’s going to sacrifice its value systems to absorb Christian art,” he said.

Frank seems to see himself appealing to listeners who are concerned about the content of secular music but haven’t found a Christian alternative good enough to pull them away. (That may seem like a dig at previous generations of Christian artists, but it’s a generational rite of passage for younger listeners to perceive the music of their parents as passé.)

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Christian art—music included—has shaped human culture for millenia, but Frank is looking at the here and now. What is Gen Z (and older Gen Alpha) looking for? And how can Christian musicians offer something new, relatable, and redemptive?

Frank has 4.1 million followers across social media platforms. In March, his song “Always” briefly became the No. 1 trending song on Instagram. Last month’s EP release, “God Is Good,” featuring Christian hip-hop artist Caleb Gordon, already has 2.1 million streams on Spotify, and a reel featuring the song and duo has 1.2 million views.

“A Christian song is the 12th most viral song in America right now,” Frank said in a video posted on Instagram, before breaking into the chorus of “Good Day.”

Another post says, “A Christian song is the #1 most viral song in all Brazil,” cheering the popularity of “No Longer Bound,” a collab with Hulvey.

According to Chartmetric, 16.3 percent of Forrest Frank’s listenership is in Brazil; he occasionally translates and reposts content in Portuguese as a shout-out to his Brazilian fans.

“Content is an art form,” Frank told Elevation YTH. “I try to be kind to my viewers. It’s like running a restaurant. You’re gonna just be like, ‘Here’s your food.’ No, it’s like, ‘Here’s your perfect plate I made for you. I hope you love it.’”

Frank grew up in the church and surrounded by musicians—his mother was a worship leader and his grandmother wrote children’s music—but he didn’t aspire to become a Christian artist or even to pursue a career as a performer.

He began experimenting with making music as a high school student after seeing an artist on YouTube using a Maschine—a compact digital workstation used to generate melodic and percussive audio material using knobs and buttons—to make beats. He bought his own Maschine Mikro and was immediately hooked on the process of DIY music-making. At Baylor, he put in hours of work in isolation, developing his skills as a producer and composer.

Frank says that he started to fall away from his faith in college and points to a pivotal experience that reignited his faith: a spur-of-the-moment decision to show up at a worship night at a church.

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“I remember just falling on my knees and crying out to Jesus,” Frank recalled, as he told the story to Elevation YTH.

After graduating, Frank took an office job and continued to make and release music as a hobby, waiting to see if his creative work would find an audience. It did; and after about a year of managing a job and an accelerating music career, he left to pursue music full-time.

Frank’s success as a Christian artist is preceded by the success of Surfaces; their song “Sunday Best” peaked at No. 19 on the Billboard Hot 100, and the duo collaborated with Elton John on the song “Learn to Fly” for the iconic singer’s album The Lockdown Sessions, produced in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2018, Frank released his first solo album, Warm, under the name Forrest. It’s only over the last year and a half that Frank has broken out as a Christian artist as “Forrest Frank.”

Today’s listeners—across genres and niches—find so much of their music online, but not all artists have succeeded in using digital platforms and harnessing social media algorithms. Artists like Frank seem to be finding success because they understand what their audience wants from the music and, perhaps as importantly, what they want to do with it.

“Most artists I know really struggle with social media. It feels like self-promotion,” said Wisdom Moon, founder of Lula Music Group, a consulting and management agency for Christian artists.

“You have to look at it as serving your audience by giving them something hopeful, something they relate to.”

Songs go viral on TikTok and Instagram not because they are catchy (that’s part of it) but because they are useful as sound clips to act as background music for content by other creators and followers.

“Artists have to think of their careers not just as musicians but also as content creators,” said Moon, who has also worked for Christian music labels like Centricity and Integrity.

And for Christian artists, faith plays a part in the content they contribute and contribute to. The most successful ones think of themselves as cocreators with their audiences.

Songs like “Good Day” and “Up!” are bouncy and lighthearted, the perfect background track for a TikTok from a beach vacation or a reel showing an unmedicated labor with amazingly good vibes. They serve an audience that wants the music to feel like it could score their lives, or the lives they want to have.

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This pragmatic, social media–conscious approach to music-making may seem at odds with the missional vision Christian artists like Frank articulate for their music. But Moon pointed out that popular Christian musicians have always had to navigate this tension between utility and witness.

Christian songs have long served as an inspirational soundtrack for young Christians as they build their identities. He recalled his days in youth ministry, making highlight videos from mission trips using Audio Adrenaline’s “Hands and Feet” as background music.

“Christian audiences are looking for songs that speak to their life and point to Jesus at the same time,” said Moon. “Christian music has always had to serve a dual purpose.”

People used to add their personal soundtracks to wedding slideshows and senior photo montages, but now every moment can be scored with background music on video platforms like TikTok and Instagram. It’s part of how audiences, including young Christians, engage with music these days.

The musician / content creator model opens doors for independent artists like Frank to build a career without the interference of a label (although, Frank had the benefit of being a successful label-represented musician prior to embarking on a career as an indie solo artist). It also prompts artists to allow their listeners access to their personal lives for the sake of building a community and following. Frank has embraced the model by posting photos of his wife, child, and home, and occasionally incorporating them in his musical content.

As a solo artist, Frank has released an impressive amount of music in a short time. His 2023 album New Hymns features a laid-back rendition of “Amazing Grace” and a guest appearance by rapper Lecrae on “Nothing but the Blood.” He also released a Christmas album last year, A Merry Lofi Christmas, which showcases Frank’s laid-back vocals but against a cozier soundscape than his viral, danceable songs like “Up!” and features jazz saxophone solos and brass.

In February, he released a remix of “Praises” with Elevation Rhythm. In April, he released the EP God Is Good. This spring, several of his singles (“Up!,” “God Is Good,” “Always,” and “Good Day”) have gone viral on social media.

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Frank is committed to serving his growing audience, but he says he’s open to whatever God has next, whether that’s continuing on this trajectory or doing something else (he jokes that if he didn’t make it as a musician, he would have probably become a massage therapist or a chiropractor).

“If God told me to delete my Spotify, I’d do it right now. If God told me to delete my Instagram, I’d do it right now.”

[ This article is also available in Português. ]